A federal judge has denied a motion by Freedom Energy and Sidney Coal Co. to dismiss court action to close a Pike County mine operated by subsidiaries of Massey Energy.
Freedom Energy had argued that because the Department of Labor hasn't placed the mine on "pattern of violations" standing through established administrative procedures, it is illegal to ask the courts to do so.
In his ruling filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, Judge Amul Thapar said "the court can eliminate the 'continuing hazard' without trudging through a series of administrative procedures."
Thapar said the Department of Labor can come to the courts when it has been determined that there is a continuing hazard.
Massey attorneys have argued that Congress, in describing a pattern of violations in two sections of the Mine Act, intended for the administrative procedure in one section to be exhausted before the court action described in the second section is used.
"The mining industry is heavily regulated, and virtually every mine in the United States is routinely issued citation or orders by the Mine Safety and Health Administration alleging violations of mandatory health and safety standards," the company said in its motion to dismiss. "While all mines must take workplace safety and health seriously and could no doubt find room for improvement, the fact they are issued citations and orders is certainly not a basis for asking a federal court to shut them down."
The administrative action is proceeding alongside the court action. On Nov. 19, MSHA, an agency of the Department of Labor, sent Sidney Coal operators a letter placing the mine on "potential pattern of violations." The company has 90 days to respond to the letter.
During a hearing on Dec. 17, Thapar said a preliminary injunction by the court, which doesn't permanently close the mine, might maintain the safety of miners while giving the administrative action time to proceed.
A trial on federal safety regulators' motion for a preliminary injunction to close the mine is scheduled to start Jan. 4.